Twenty votes decided Berkshire mall’s fate

Dustin Ensinger

December 30, 2013

Delaware County will soon have an outlet mall, but it took the voters of Berkshire Township to make it happen.

Township voters in February rejected an effort to overturn a rezoning decision that paved the way for the outlet mall to be built just off the southeastern section of the Interstate-71-U.S. 36-Ohio 37 interchange.

The margin was just 20 votes.

“The township will remain whole and the outlet mall will be built in Berkshire Township,” Berkshire Township Trustee Bill Holtry said following the election.

The issue split the township in two. On one side were opponents of the outlet mall, backed by a rival outlet mall developer hoping to build in the New Albany area. The other side included a group of residents not necessarily in favor of an outlet mall but fearful that the land would be annexed and it would be built anyway. The latter group was backed by outlet mall developers Simon Properties and Tanger Outlets, the two companies looking to build in Delaware County.

“People were led to believe the possibility of annexation was a scare tactic, and it wasn’t,” Holtry said. “It was a very real option for them.”

There were several twists and turns along the way for all involved. Simon-Tanger was not alone in looking to develop an outlet mall in Delaware County. Another group had proposed one just south of the Simon-Tanger location. Rezoning was not approved for that development, and its developers have since sued the township, claiming they were treated unfairly.

The Simon-Tanger rezoning decision was upheld in an unusual 1-1 vote by the trustees because longtime Berkshire Township Trustee Bob Carpenter was forced to recuse himself from the vote due to the proximity of his property to the proposed development. Zoning inspector Jeff George was also forced to recuse himself from the matter.

Both potential conflict of interest issues were brought to light by the New Albany group, who organized a meeting early on with township residents to discuss a referendum on any zoning approval on a Delaware County outlet mall.

Once the zoning was approved, the campaign kicked into high gear, but was nearly derailed. The group’s petition to put the measure on the ballot was challenged. However, the Delaware County Board of Elections voted in favor of keeping the issue on the ballot.

Once all the votes had been cast, though, the issue was still not dead. The New Albany group asked for a recount of the vote, which lowered the margin by five votes but did not change the end result.

“I knew it was going to be close. I honestly thought it would fail,” Berkshire Township Trustee Rod Myers, an opponent of the outlet mall, said following the vote. “But obviously Simon-Tanger did a good job persuading people that this is what we need.”

Simon-Tanger officials said they hope to open the outlet mall by 2015.